Older Americans – Forced to Use Computers

By Martin Jansen, Owner of Jansen-PCINFO

My wife and I finally had a chance to go out and dine at a local restaurant and bar.  We hadn’t done so for over a year due to COVID-19 precautions.  It was good to go out and speak with people again.  Sometimes we get kind of stuck and it is nice to get a different perspective.

We were speaking about computers and I was told “we don’t use computers” anymore.  When I asked how they keep up on emails and stuff, I was told “we just use a tablet.”  News flash! Smartphones and tablets are computers!  They are just lower powered and require more peripherals to create something new.

Tablets are most often used to view the world, but not participate in the world.  Millions of older adults were forced to use computers in their working days.  They never liked them and some were even afraid of computers, for computers sometimes did unpredictable things.

Two work stories:  One lady was wondering how a mouse worked.  Being a seamstress, she put the mouse on the floor and tried to use her foot to make the computer go.  One more:  In the days of 5 and a quarter inch floppy drives that were superseded by 3 and a half inch drives.  A person had a floppy and used scissors to cut it down to fit in the diskette drive.  Very surprised that it didn’t work, a call was placed with the help desk.  I spent a few hours trying to get the mutilated floppy out without damaging the drive.

Now these are very old stories, but then so were some of the people who were forced to use computers at work.  These were adults that were used to using paper for everything at work from order forms, data entry and then putting everything in filing cabinets.  For them, Xerox copies were advanced technology.

Businesses were beginning to see the potential of computers and started deploying them to their employees with very little training.  This “you’ll get the hang of it” approach did not work well.  Productivity plummeted.  That’s probably why my early years in computers were spent as a trainer as well as support.

I suppose I am a little different because I love computers.  This despite the fact that the most technical device we had in high school was a Texas Instruments Scientific Calculator with red LED display, cost about $100 and ate 9-volt batteries constantly.

I talked my wife into buying a Commodore VIC-20 for home in the early 80s.  The selling point for her was the ability to play games like GORF, a missile command knock off.

 I would later use the VIC-20 and it’s ascendant Commodore-64 as a word processor to write papers in college.  I even wrote my thesis for my master’s degree using the Commodore-64 and a dot matrix printer.

I know that most people don’t love their computers, they see them as tools to get something done.  When the computer doesn’t work, they get frustrated and want to “ throw the thing out the window.”   Good thing many office buildings don’t have windows that can open or we might see a whole lot of shattered computers on the ground.

We lost a whole generation of older people who were forced to use a computer at work against their will.  They were not properly trained. It’s really a shame.